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Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)

Strauss

Festfanfare der Stadt Wien, Op. 133
ed. Geoffrey Emerson

Strauss had a stormy and chequered relationship with the city of Vienna, which in the 1920s was no longer the centre of international musical life it had once been. His inspiration for composing was at a low ebb in this period, too, which saw the writing of a few ceremonial pieces, including two brass fanfares, and his later, more neglected operas. He tended to rely on past fame and successes, and thus neglected his duties at the Vienna Opera. But Richard Strauss, like Vaughan-Williams, was a long lived composer, and in his late 70s and 80s the creative spirit returned. The fanfare we play tonight, variously known as Festmusik or Festfanfare "for Vienna city trumpeters" was written for brass and timpani in 1943, but not published until after his death.

Horn Concerto No 1 Op.11
Allegro; Andante; Rondo – allegro

Strauss' father served for over 30 years as principal horn of the Bavarian Court orchestra, and as professor at the Munich Academy of Music. The young Richard must have learnt at his father's knee (maybe literally) the range, expressiveness and power of the French horn, and the technical tricks of its players. Strauss was aged just 19 and studying at university when he wrote this concerto for horn and orchestra, and it is one of his earliest works to keep its place in the repertoire.

Curiously enough he was not studying music, but philosophy and aesthetics; however this didn't last, and he soon swapped to studying music.

At this time the valve horn was coming in to general use, gradually replacing the old valveless or natural horn. The score is titled “Concerto for Waldhorn”, and Waldhorn literally means “Forest horn”. This seems to imply use of the natural horn, but most players agree it would be impossible on a natural horn. At the very least it would be outrageously difficult, and the result probably not justify the enormous effort required.

In style the concerto is a mixture of classical and romantic. There is a strong influence of Mozart, whose horn concertos had been written about 100 years earlier, especially in the lively rondo finale. (It is one of those odd questions in the history of music – why did no-one else write a horn concerto, after Mozart had shown so brilliantly how to do it?) There is also an influence of Wagner in the bold opening horn call and the luscious Andante. Despite this, the work is uniquely Richard Strauss, and you can hear a pre-echo of his tone poems that soon followed - Don Juan and Til Eulenspiegel.

The work lasts about 15 minutes, and the three movements are joined seamlessly. The opening chord and fanfare declaim unequivocally - this is a horn concerto! The first movement has two themes, the first based on the fanfare and the second mellow and flowing. Towards the end a triplet figure appears, which we will hear more of in the finale. Instead of a bold close the music relaxes, quietens, and sinks down into the remote key of A-flat minor for a gentle andante. At its conclusion, an eight-bar bar interlude brings back the triplet figure and we are launched into the brisk and lively finale. Strauss gives the orchestra plenty of chance to join in the fun too, in a movement of unquenchable good humour.

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